Girty continues traditional art of stone carving

BY LINDSEY BARK
Reporter
09/05/2020 02:00 PM
Audio Clip
Video with default Cherokee Phoenix Frame
Main Cherokee Phoenix
United Keetoowah Band citizen Matt Girty talks about the different types of stones he uses in his work while holding a soapstone carving. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
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United Keetoowah Band citizen Matt Girty demonstrates a process of stone carving by sawing a large piece of rock that will eventually become a chunkey stone. He uses a various power tools to create his art. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
This “Spirit Walker” stone carving is by United Keetoowah Band citizen and artist Matt Girty. It depicts a family on the Trail of Tears being led by a spirit helper. It is made from steatite and soapstone with a wood base. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
“Back to School Blues” made by United Keetoowah Band citizen and stone carver Matt Girty depicts a little boy on his first day of school, encouraged by his mother. It is made from North Carolina soapstone. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
The “7 Clans Pipe” made by United Keetoowah Band citizen and stone carver Matt Girty has images carved into Virginia steatite that represent the seven clans of the Cherokee. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
WAUHILLAU – United Keetoowah Band citizen Matt Girty began creating art in his youth while discovering his Native identity. Nearly 26 years later, the United Keetoowah Band Tradition Keeper is well-known for his stone carvings, capturing his culture in art.

Born in Dallas to full-blood, Cherokee-speaking parents, Girty was unable to learn the language, and learned about his heritage from his environment.

“I used to draw all the time. Back in the (19)70s what really influenced me…there was like a big (American Indian) movement, what people were doing in the big cities,” Girty said. “What I figured out now as I got older, they were bringing Indian identity back. When you grow up in the city, you’re pretty much just one in a bucket of a lot of different people, so if you see another Indian, you automatically connect. So in artwork, I seen that it brought people together.”

After seeing the “enlightenment” his drawings brought others, he decided to focus on art.
“That’s what brought me the challenge of becoming an artist,” Girty said. “I don’t really like calling myself an artist. I like calling myself an Indian who likes to carve and do what our ancestors did years ago and try to make that connection, because I lost that.”

A friend from North Carolina introduced him to soapstone in 1994. When he realized he could turn his two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional carvings, he began the process of being a full-time artist.

“I had no idea that Cherokees even did stuff like that. I did my research, kept carving, kept carving and tried to find that soapstone,” Girty said. “I didn’t know that Cherokees used it. It was all in the Appalachian Mountains…With that being said, today I try to stick with Keetoowah Cherokee-specific materials as far as stones.”

Along with soapstone, he works with alabaster, marble and granite.

Girty said he started out using basic tools such as a pocketknife, hacksaw, file and drill. He’s since upgraded to power tools, depending on the type of carving. He’s also experienced in effigy pipes and figurative sculptures that are Cherokee-specific.

“When I’m carving I meet God in the middle with those beautiful rocks that he already created,” Girty said. “I’m just advancing it further to where me and him can meet. It’s really therapy for me. If I’m doing a turtle, I see how the Lord made that turtle. I always start with a middle mark in everything I do.”

Because of his experience, he can do larger life-sized sculptures as well as gravestones. He said stone carving is essential to Native people. “That goes with language and our culture. Without that, we’re nothing. I found out soapstone carving is dead here. I don’t see many carvings here. It’s not just essential to Keetoowah Cherokees, its essential to all five (civilized) tribes. We all carve.”

He said a bright spot in creating art being able to pass on his knowledge. “I was able to be in a lot of classrooms where I’m with a high Native population, where I’m able to speak to these kids and that really inspires me to really look at how far I came. That’s one of the bright spots of my career where it’s brought me and they listen to me. That’s what I want to show our people out here, is that feeling that I get when I complete a piece and just to know that you can create something with just your hands.”

For information on Girty’s art, find him on Facebook or email cherokeecustomcarvings@gmail.com.
ᏣᎳᎩ

ᏩᎯᎸ – ᎠᏂᎩᏚᏩᎩ ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ ᎨᎳ Matt Girty ᎤᎴᏅᎲ ᎪᏢᏅᏍᎬ ᏓᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᎬ ᎠᏲᏟᏊ ᏥᎨᏒᎢ ᎠᎴ ᏧᏕᎶᎰᏒ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎨᏒᎢ. ᏔᎵᏍᎪ ᏑᏓᎵ ᎾᏕᏘᏯ ᎣᏂ, ᎾᎿ ᎠᏂᎩᏚᏩᎩ ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ ᎨᎳ ᎠᎦᏘᏯ ᎠᎪᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᎾᎿ ᏅᏯ ᏗᏲᏢᏍᎩ ᎨᏒ, ᎬᏂᎨᏒ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎬ ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᎨᏒ ᎪᏢᏅᏍᎬᎢ.

ᎤᏕᏅᏃ ᎾᎿ Dallas ᎤᏥ ᎧᎵ ᎠᏣᎳᎩ, ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᏧᎦᏴᎵᎨᎢ. Girty Ꮭ ᏳᏕᎶᏆᎡ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎤᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗᎢ. ᎾᏍᎩᏍᎩᏂ ᎤᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎢᏳᏛᏁᎵᏓᏍᏗ ᎠᎪᏩᏗᏍᎬ ᏄᏍᏗᏓᏅ ᎤᏛᏏᏗᏒᎢ.

“ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᏕᎦᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᎬ. ᎾᎿ 1970 ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏌᏗᏒ ᏙᎯᏳᏃ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᎠᎩᏍᏆᏂᎪᏒᎢ......... ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᏔᎾ ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ ᎤᎾᎵᏖᎸᏅ, ᎢᏳᏍᏗᏃ ᎾᎾᏛᏁᎲ ᎾᎿ ᏧᏔᎾ ᏕᎦᏚᎲᎢ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ Girty. “ᎢᏳᏍᏗᏃ ᎠᏆᏕᎶᏆᎥ ᏃᏊ ᎤᎪᏛ ᏯᏆᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᏄᎵᏍᏔᎾ, ᎠᏂᏲᎯᎮᏃ ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ ᎨᎪᎵᏍᏙᏗ. ᎢᏳᏃ ᎤᏔᎾ ᎦᏚᎲ ᏣᏛᏒ ᏱᎩ, ᏙᎯᏳᏊᏃ ᏌᏊ ᎤᏍᏗ ᏫᏦᎰᏒ ᎠᎹᏟᏙᏗᎢ ᎾᎿ ᏧᎾᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ ᎠᏁᎲᎢ, ᎢᏳᏃ ᏐᎢ ᎠᏂᏴᏫ ᏱᎪᎢ, ᎨᎳᏆ ᎢᏴᎢ ᏗᏍᏓᏙᎵᎦ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎪᎢ. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏗᎾᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᎩ ᎨᏒ, ᎠᎩᎪᎲ ᎠᏂᏴᏫ ᏗᎾᏓᏙᎵᎦ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎪ ᎠᎴ ᏓᎾᎵᎪᎲᏍᎪᎢ.”
ᎤᎪᎯᏃ ᎯᎢᎾ “ᎢᎦᎯ ᎠᎪᏩᏛᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ” ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᎬ ᏓᏘᏃᎯᎲ ᎠᏂᏐᎢ, ᏚᏭᎪᏔᏅ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᏗᎢ.

“ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏅᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗᏍᎬ ᏗᎦᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᎩ ᎨᏎᏍᏗ ᎠᏇᎵᏒᎢ ᎤᏛᏅᎢ Girty. “ᏝᏃᏙ ᏯᎩᎸᏉᏓ ᏗᎦᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᎩ ᎠᏆᏓᏙᏎᏗ. ᎠᎩᎸᏉᏓ ᎠᏴᏫᏯ ᎠᏲᏢᏅᏍᎩ ᎠᏆᏓᏙᏎᏗᎢ ᎠᎴ ᏯᏆᏛᏗ ᏗᎩᎦᏴᎵᎨ ᏄᎾᏛᏁᎸ ᎪᎯᎦ ᏥᎨᏒᎢ ᎠᎴ ᎦᏁᎶᏗᏍᎪ ᎤᏠᏯ ᎠᎴ ᏦᎦᏓᏂᏴᏗᎢ, ᏅᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗ ᎠᎩᏲᎱᏎᎳ ᎾᏍᎩ.”

ᎣᎩᎾᎵ ᎾᎿ ᎦᏯᎴᏂ ᎡᎯ ᎠᎩᏎᎮᎸ ᎾᎿ ᎣᏝᏅᏯ ᎠᏃᏎᎰ ᎾᎿ 1994 ᏥᎨᏒᎢ. ᎤᏕᎶᎰᏏ ᎾᎿ ᏔᎵ ᏗᏟᎶᏓ ᎨᏒ ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅ ᎾᎿ ᏦᎢ ᏂᎦᎵᏍᏗᏍᎬ ᎠᏲᏟᏅᎢ, ᎤᎴᏅᎲ ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᏓᏟᎶᏍᏔᏅᎲᏍᎬᎢ.

“Ꮭ ᏯᏆᏅᏕ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᎦ ᎾᎾᏛᏁᎲ. ᎩᎳ ᎠᎩᎪᎵᏱᎢᏙᎸ, ᏂᎦᏯᎢᏐ ᏥᏲᏢᏅᏍᎬ ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᎠᎴ ᎦᏁᎶᏗᏍᎬ ᎠᎩᏩᏛᏗ ᎣᏟᏅᏯ,” ᎠᏗᏍᎬᎢ Girty. Ꮭ ᏯᏆᏅᏖ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏅᏗᏍᎬᎢ ᎯᎠ ᏅᏯ. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏂᎦᏓ ᎾᎿ Appalachian ᏙᏓᎸᎢ....... ᎾᏍᎩᎾ ᏥᏂᏥᏫ, ᎪᎯ ᎢᎦ ᎦᏁᎶᏗᎢ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᎠᏅᏗᏍᎬ ᎠᏂᎩᏚᏩᎩ ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᏅᏯ ᏓᏅᏗᏍᎬᎤᎢ.”

ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎣᏟᏅᏯ , ᎬᏗᏍᎪ ᎾᏍᏊ alabaster, ᎦᏓᏲᏍᏗ ᎠᎴ granite.

Girty ᎠᏗᏍᎬ ᎤᎴᏅᎲ ᎬᏔᏅᏍᎬ ᎠᏲᏢᏅᏍᎬ ᎠᏰᎳᏍᏗ, ᏔᎷᎩᏍᎩ ᏗᏍᏆᎵᏍᏙᏗ, ᎠᏥᎳ ᎤᏍᎦᏘ ᎠᎴ ᏗᏔᎴᏍᏗ. ᎠᏎᏃ ᎣᏂ ᏂᏓᏳᎴᏅᏓ ᎤᎪᏓ ᎠᎴ ᏓᏤᏟ ᎠᎾᎦᎵᏍᎩ ᏗᏂᎩᏍᏗᏍᎩ, ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᏓᎪᏢᏂᏒᎢ. ᏃᎴᏍᏊ ᎤᎦᏙᎲᏒ ᎾᏍᎩ effgy ᏥᏓᏃᏎᎰ ᏗᎦᏅᏃ ᎠᎴ ᏧᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᏗᏟᎵᏍᏔᏅ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᏧᏅᏙᏗ.

“ᏥᏥᏲᎳᏅᏍᎬ ᏥᏩᏛᎲ ᎤᏁᎳᏅᎯ ᎾᎿ ᎠᏰᏟ ᎤᏬᏚ ᏅᏯ ᎨᏒᎢ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎦᏳᎳ ᎤᏬᏢᏅᎯ ᎨᏒᎢ,”ᎠᏗᏍᎬ Girty. “ᎤᎪᏓᏊ ᏥᏲᎸᏍᎦ ᎾᎿ ᏙᎩᎾᏓᏙᎵᏨᎢ. ᎢᎦ ᎣᏍᏓ ᎦᏓᏅᏓᏗᎠ ᎠᏯ. ᎢᏳᏃ ᏌᎵᎫᎦ ᏱᎪᏢᏍᎦ, ᏥᎪᏩᏘ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏄᏩᏁᎸ ᎤᏁᎳᏅᎯ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏌᎵᎫᎦ. ᏂᎪᎯᎸ ᎦᎴᏂᏍᎪ ᎾᎿ ᎠᏰᏟ ᎤᏙᏪᎸ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏂᎦᏓ ᎪᏢᏅᏍᎬᎢ.”

ᏅᏗᎦᎵᏍᏙᏗZ ᎾᎿ ᎤᎦᏙᎲᏒ, ᎡᎵᏊ ᏧᏔᎾ ᏱᎪᏢᎿᎥᎦ ᎠᎴᏍᏊ ᏚᎾᏓᏂᏌᎲ ᏗᎨᏛᏍᏗ. ᎠᏗᏍᎬZ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏅᏯ ᎪᏢᏔᏅᏅ ᎠᏎ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏁᎯᏯ ᎠᏂᏴᏫ ᎨᏒᎢ. “ᎾᏍᎩ ᏓᎵᎪᎲᏍᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎢᎩᎲ ᎢᎦᏛᏁᎵᏓᏍᏗ. ᏂᎩᎲᎾ ᏱᎩ Ꮭ ᎪᎱᏍᏗ ᏱᎦᎩ. ᎠᏆᏕᎶᎰᏒ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎠᏲᏟᏅᏅ Ꮭ ᏰᎭ ᎠᎭᏂ ᎤᎵᏬᏨᎢ. Ꮭ ᏱᏗᏥᎪᏩᏘᏍᎪ ᎤᏟ ᎢᎦ ᎠᎭᏂ. ᏝᏙ ᎠᏎ ᏗᏃᏢᏍᎦ ᏱᎩ ᎠᎭᏂ ᎠᎴ ᎠᏂᎩᏚᏩᎩ ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯᎢ. ᏝᏙ ᎠᏎ ᏱᎩ ᎾᎿ ᎠᏂᎩᏚᏩᎩ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩᎢ, ᏚᏂᎲ ᏂᎦᏓ (ᎯᏍᎩ) ᎾᏂᎾᏍᏓᏢᎢ. ᏂᎦᏓ ᎣᏥᏲᏢᏅᏍᎩ.”

ᎠᏗᏍᎬ ᎤᏥᏍᏓᎷᎩᏍᎩ ᎤᏓᏓᏟ ᎾᎿ ᎪᏢᏅᏗᎢ ᏗᎨᏲᏗ ᎠᏂᏐᎢ ᎤᏃᏢᏅᏗᎢ. “ᎡᎵᏃ ᎢᎸᏍᎩ ᏓᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎬ ᎠᏇᎳᏗᏙᎸ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᏂᎪᏓ ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ ᎨᏐᎢ, ᎾᎿ ᎦᏥᏬᏅᏗᏍᎪ ᎯᎠ ᏗᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ ᎠᎴ ᏥᎪᏩᏘᏍᎪ ᎢᎦ ᎠᏆᏛᏒ ᎠᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ ᎨᏒᎢ. ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᏍᎪᏍᏗ ᎣᏍᏓ ᎠᏓᏅᏓᏗᏍᏗ ᎾᎿ ᏂᎦᏛᏁᎲ ᎠᎴ ᎬᏆᏛᏓᏍᏗᏍᎪᎢ. ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ ᎠᏆᏚᎵ ᎦᏥᎪᏩᏛᏙᏗ ᏗᎦᏤᎵ ᎠᏂᏴᏫ ᎠᎭᏂ, ᎾᏍᎩ ᎢᏳᏍᏓ ᎦᏓᏅᏓᏗᏍᎪ ᏯᎩᏍᏆᏗ ᎪᏢᏍᎬᎢ ᎪᎱᏍᏗ, ᎠᎴ ᎠᏆᏅᏛ ᏨᏌ ᏂᏣᏛᏁᎸ ᎠᎴᏗᏦᏱᏂ ᏕᏨᏔᏅᎢ.”
ᎤᎪᏛ ᎧᏃᎮᏍᎩ ᎾᏍᎩ Gary’s ᎤᏬᏢᏅᏅ, ᎠᏩᏛᏗ ᎾᎿ ᎤᎧᏛ ᎪᏪᎵ ᎠᎴ email cherokeecustomcarvings@gmail.com

About the Author
Lindsey Bark grew up and resides in the Tagg Flats community in Delaware County. She graduated magna cum laude from Northeastern State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, emphasizing ...
lindsey-bark@cherokee.org • 918-772-4223
Lindsey Bark grew up and resides in the Tagg Flats community in Delaware County. She graduated magna cum laude from Northeastern State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, emphasizing ...

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